2016 European Ski Mountaineering Championships: Les Marecottes


Competition is fierce in the European Ski Mountaineering Championships – only the “crème de la crème” of the ski mountaineering fraternity are drawn to this action-packed event. Ben Bardsley brings us this year’s adrenaline-filled report on the three-day event in the Swiss Alps from February 5-7.

After a week of extremely contrasting weather, we had the chance to benefit from absolutely optimal conditions for the first day of the European Championships in Les Marécottes, Switzerland. The avalanche risk was high and the course was therefore closed to runners before the event.

Our British men’s team had a really impressive turnout. It was great to see some of the “old guard” – Jon Morgan, Carron Scrimgeour and Ivor Ligertwood – in addition to a few more recent rookies – Ben Bradford, Colin Thornton, Chris Shand and John Houlihan. We took advantage of the fact that the race was lined with a World Cup and therefore had no restriction on the number of competitors. It was great to be able to give so many people the opportunity to race at this level. An added bonus was that being a World Cup, it attracted a few more countries… leveling the playing field somewhat!

The races took place over three days – Friday February 5, Saturday February 6 and Sunday February 7.

DAY ONE

The first day of racing dawned with a clear blue sky and not a breath of wind. This was in such contrast to the previous weekend, when the British Championships were called off due to winds above 100 mph.

First, the individual race: four climbs and descents, with portions of portage on steeper terrain; the total height difference was 1620m.

As always, the pace was furious on the line. The British were all pretty tight and reliably close to some notable riders from countries with snowy winters.

After nearly melting in the heat for almost two hours, I was delighted to bring the Brits home and be within 30% of the winner. Our team’s packing was tight and I was pursued closely by UIAGM guide Ben Bradford, Chamonix A consultant and E Carron Scrimgeour and doctor and guide Jon Morgan. I was starting to feel a bit underqualified in such a high ranking company! The four of us formed the British ‘European team’ for this event.

The next man was Chris Shand, who lived in Areches this winter and trained with the world’s ski mountaineering elite including William Bon Mardion and Xavier Gachet. Colin Thornton, an ultra experienced rider residing in Chamonix had the misfortune of breaking a post on the first descent, but persevered with one for the entire second climb until he managed to find a replacement. John Houlihan experienced a literal “baptism of fire” as temperatures soared and retired as avalanche risk increased to unacceptable levels.

Many thanks to Ivor Ligertwood for providing us with some youngsters from Aiglon College – Jake Doyle, Jack Wright and Patrick Oliver all represented GB in their respective categories. “Hat” and well done boys.

DAY TWO

The second day of the championships was the vertical race – 500 meters of elevation gain of pure suffering. It was a time trial this year, with riders starting every 20 seconds. Chris, John and I were the only British starters.

We ran well, but we were not up to Kilian Jornet, who won with 30 seconds in advance; it was quite amazing to see the man in action.

DAY THREE

Sunday was the sprint race – which is the most likely event to qualify for the Olympics; makes it a ‘Skimountaineering meets Boardercross’ race. Athletes compete on a course lasting only three to four minutes. During this time there are climbs with turns, portages, slalom descents and skating.

Many thanks to Graham Friend, Chris Shand, Jack Wright and Partrick Oliver who hoisted the flag at this extremely competitive event. Graham competed in particularly difficult conditions, having only received his race number and timing chip a few minutes before the allotted start time.

I greatly appreciate the efforts of all the Brits who came together, going to great lengths to be with us, flying the flag that day. Thank you also to the BMC without whom we could not compete and also Yogi Tea, Lyon Equipment / La Sportiva.

WATCH: A video of the individual race at Les Marécottes

2016 BRITISH MOUNTAIN SKIING CHAMPIONSHIPS

On February 27, the delayed British ski mountaineering championships finally took place on the Scottish mountain of Glencoe. We’re still waiting for the report, but the race results are below.

RESULTS

Men’s
1st Finlay Sauvage
2nd Ben Bardsley
3rd Tim Gomersall

Women’s
1st Gabriel Lees
2nd Rosalind Martin
3rd Deborah Morgan

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